How did beer signs become so cool? Well, there are a lot of reasons. In many ways a beer sign is a status symbol. In some of the older generations it wasn’t common to have a bar at your home. It was a status symbol of sorts. You would find beers signs in only a few places. Bars of course and places where you could purchase the beer. Displaying one of these proudly in your home bar was an instantly noticeable mark of someone who was doing pretty good.
You also have beer enthusiasts who don’t just drink to get drunk or get a buzz. They enjoy the product. The like to take in the taste and aroma just like a wine lover would do. In some cases, they had a preference for one beer. In others, they may have a large variety that they like to enjoy. Regardless, what better way is there to show your devotion and loyalty than by posting a sign in your basement, rec room, or home bar?
Then you have the collectors. I’m sure we’ve all seen the reality tv shows where they go through a junkers’ collection to find hidden gems. Perhaps a 1950’s Budweiser or Pabst sign. The pawn shows where they get thousands of dollars for a particular sign because it is so rare. They even have found some in the storage locker shows where they bid on the contents of storage lockers that have been abandoned. In all of these cases there is one thing that is prevalent through it all. Beer signs can be valuable.
Signs Of The Past
Signs come in all shapes and sizes. They can be made out of wood, porcelain, steel, neon, glass, and plastic. In the early 1900’s there were nearly 1300 breweries in the United States, and they were all trying to get you to drink their beer. In one of the earliest forms of marketing for beer they developed different signs. They were typically made out of weatherproof materials at that time as they wanted passerby to see that they carried or had that kind of beer.
The beer sign, like all things in the beer and liquor industry, all but disappeared from 1920 to 1933. This was when prohibition was in effect and the sale and production of alcohol was banned in the United States. Many of the beer companies went under, while some of the companies that would emerge as huge franchises like Pabst, Miller, and Schlitz would go on to make malted dairy drinks. In 1933 the prohibition era would end and beer production was back at it.
The world had changed a bit in the time that prohibition was in force. Porcelain was no longer the predominant material used. Tin and steel signs would become the most used do to their durability and availability. Although neon signs were around as soon as the 1950’s, they weren’t generally used until the 70’s and 80’s.
Glass and mirrored signs would find their way into the mix as well. These were used heavily in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. You could find these at your local pub or liquor store. Print ads in magazines had slowly been taking over the beer sign’s job of advertising. In 1940, the television ads started for beer and became their main source of advertising over the years. The signs were more a novelty with so much marketing going into TV and Print and so the era of the beer sign was seemingly over.
Beer Signs That May Be Valuable
There are a lot, and I mean a LOT, of beer signs out there. You can buy new ones that pay tribute to the past signs on Amazon. As for the real ones? In most cases they are worn, chipped, broken, scratched, dented, and damaged in any number of ways. You name it and they have probably survived it. That doesn’t mean they are valuable though. If you find an old sign it may not automatically be worth a lot of money. It could be that the value is diminished because of its condition. It could also be that there is no demand for it or it could be simply that there were a lot more just like it out there. All of these factors can contribute to the value of a sign. Here are some signs that are considered very valuable though.
- Corner Signs – These signs were placed outside of saloons on, you guessed it, on the corner. They were plentiful in the early 1900’s and could be made of tin, porcelain, brass, and vitrolite (a special glass). It is rare to find these signs today which makes them very valuable, typically in the range of several thousand dollars if in good condition.
- Reverse On Glass (ROG) – These signs incorporate a process of putting advertising on the backside of glass. These were very popular pre-prohibition era but could also be found after prohibition as well. They are considered very valuable for several reasons. The first reason is that the paint could peel off the backside of the glass due to moisture, heat, and other factors. Secondly, they are made of glass, so they are easily breakable. When you combine these two factors you realize there probably aren’t a lot of these lying around. There are probably even fewer that are in good condition.
- Tin Over Cardboard (TOC) – This is probably the most popular sign of all of them. They were used before prohibition and heavily afterwards up until the 1960’s. These signs were much more durable than most and that’s why they are favorite of collectors. There are some lucky people out there who may find TOC signs with a celluloid cover over top of them to keep the artwork from wearing down.
- Beer Trays – These awesome collectibles came in a lot of different varieties. Mostly found in circular, rectangular, and oval shapes the beer tray was used exactly as it sounds, for serving beers. They were popular in the late 1890’s and were made with a variety of materials like tin, brass, or porcelain. They used the same lithograph method used on glass to adhere the design.
It’s Called What Again?
This type of collecting is called Breweriana. I’m not making that word up. That’s what it’s actually called. Anyways, name aside, it’s a cool collecting hobby. Here’s how a great resource called Antiqueadvertisingexpert.com defines it.
“Breweriana includes any type of beer collectible related to breweries and beer. Beer collectibles have always been very popular and with a recent boom in microbreweries a new generation of people are finding out about different types of beer memorabilia. Accordingly, some of the original beer brands are being reintroduced which is creating an interest in the history of beer, the breweries that once made them and their original advertising.”
There are a lot of places you can buy and sell these signs. You can check out eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, Letgo, and PawnGuru to name a few. If you want something that is just a re-creation they have awesome stuff here on Amazon. If you are looking to sell a sign the best thing to do though is to visit your local antique dealer and see what they might know about it. They may not specialize in beer signs, but they can probably tell you a lot about it. They can probably also get you in contact with someone who does. You should probably just keep it in your basement, garage, or home bar though. Because they’re awesome. No other reason needed. Cheers!